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Kay Williams opens doors for students

Norfolk native Kay Williams says she has no plans to retire. She hopes to serve students “until her last breath.”

Director of the Open Door Project at Tidewater Community College, Williams says she is filled with joy and excitement every time she watches her students graduate and transfer to four-year schools. “I didn’t know that this job would become my calling, but it has,” she says.

Offered on the Norfolk and Portsmouth campuses, this federally-funded program helps students with academic performance, while providing support services to keep them in school. Open Door students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and are often first-generation college students.

The program provides support to about 250 students each year. “Students come with such low expectations, and without the support we provide, most would not stay the course,” Williams says. “We show them that they can do it, and when they have that light bulb moment that they agree, we know they are going to make it.”

Williams and her staff provide mentoring, advising, tutoring and encouragement to students on a daily basis. “It’s important for them to know that our doors are always open,” she says. “Just being here to help work through problems, from scheduling issues to time management, makes all the difference.”

Williams grew up in Norfolk and has fond memories of shopping downtown, and going to Woolworth’s (now the Walker building) for a sandwich. “This is my home, so I enjoy being part of the Norfolk Campus community,” Williams adds.

A graduate of Hampton University, Williams landed her first job as a counselor for Hudson County Community College in New Jersey. She also held positions at the University of Michigan and the now defunct Ford Motor Company plant in Norfolk, before joining TCC in the mid-1990s.

“When I came to TCC, I felt like I’d found my place,” Williams says. “I was at a small country campus in Chesapeake, and now that place has grown to serve thousands of students.”

Williams holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Hampton University and a master’s in industrial organizational psychology from Stevens Institute of Technology.

An avid angler, Williams enjoys quiet times at the Virginia Beach pier, walking, reading and snow skiing. She is married and has three daughters, one of whom is a missionary in Hong Kong. She is a fourth generation member of First Baptist Church in Norfolk and currently serves as the Church School superintendent.